The AFC North promises to be one of the best divisions in the NFL in 2022. Cincinnati is coming off a Super Bowl appearance after winning the North last season.
Pittsburgh and Baltimore, while going through some roster changes, look to be competitive this season.
The Browns, with the most shifting off-season of any of their divisional foes, are hunting for their first division title since 1989.
Winning the division is a goal for every team in the regular season.
However, for this year’s Browns team, is it essential to a playoff run?
Just Get In
The last Browns playoff appearance didn’t come paired with an AFC North title.
Instead, just two years ago, the Browns were minutes from an AFC Championship Game appearance after finishing third in the division.
This season may play out similarly to that one.
With concerns over a possible Deshaun Watson extension, a slow start could be coming for Cleveland.
But look back at the 2020 season. Cleveland played their best football towards the tail end of the year.
Even with COVID and injuries plaguing the roster, the team embraced the adversity in the best way possible.
Despite finishing third in the North, they were clicking heading into January.
The Steelers, the divisional champs that year, fell apart late that season.
That was fast! Pouncey butchers the snap and we're all over it 🙌pic.twitter.com/YmWk3FNR62
— Browns Nation (@BrownsNationCP) January 11, 2021
Last year’s team faded quickly after a 3-1 start.
A three-game losing skid in late December and early January doomed their postseason chances.
The Packers pick Baker off for the 4th time tonight seal the W
— Barstool Sportsbook (@BSSportsbook) December 26, 2021
If the Browns don’t get off the blocks well, a strong second half is crucial.
As long as the roster is healthy and guys are playing well late in the year, winning enough games to get into the playoffs is all that matters.
From there it’s a game of who’s hot and who’s not.
Welcome to the Dawg Pound
Winning the division guarantees a home playoff game in Cleveland.
That hasn’t happened since 1994. Fans are hungry to see a postseason atmosphere return to northeast Ohio.
Clevelanders dream of making opponents come into a cold and rigid First Energy Stadium and letting them hear it from the Dawg Pound.
It’d be a boost to the team culture, the organization, and the city of Cleveland as a whole.
The Browns handled the Kansas City crowd just fine in 2020.
They don’t need to be at home to win or compete in playoff games.
However, it’d provide plenty of energy to a young and hungry team that can feed off it.
Do They Need to Win the North?
Winning the division isn’t essential to Cleveland making their postseason run.
I fully expect a bit of a slow start considering the new faces and the importance of the positions those new faces play.
This will take time to gel and develop into a contending roster.
Fortunately, the pieces are there for that to happen quickly.
Peak at the right time of the year and winning the division carries far less importance.
If Cleveland can do that, they just need to get in.